Alton Riverfront Amphitheater Project

Kirchner Block & Brick’s products take center stage in Alton Riverfront and Marina District Master Plan in Alton, Ill.

Alton Riverfront Amphitheater Project
Photo courtesy of Kirchner Block & Brick

While concert-goers enjoyed the inaugural Big Gig live music festival this past Fall, and many of them admired the beautiful new Alton Riverfront Amphitheater where the event was held, most of the music lovers weren’t aware of the balance and harmony of materials utilized in the creation of this magnificent outdoor venue located in scenic Alton, Ill.

St. Louis-based Kirchner Block & Brick and their VERSA-LOK® weathered retaining wall units and Romanstone® Olympia concrete pavers played a starring role in this extensive municipal project. The new Amphitheater, part of the Alton Riverfront and Marina District Master Plan recently completed for the City of Alton, is the centerpiece of the ambitious renewal of the Alton riverfront vicinity of this historic town on the Mississippi River.

St. Louis-based Kirchner Block & Brick and their VERSA-LOK® weathered retaining wall units and Romanstone® Olympia concrete pavers played a starring role in this extensive municipal project. The new Amphitheater, part of the Alton Riverfront and Marina District Master Plan recently completed for the City of Alton, is the centerpiece of the ambitious renewal of the Alton riverfront vicinity of this historic town on the Mississippi River.
Photo by Debra D. Lewis

This stunning redevelopment project was lead by a team of construction and design companies who worked hand in hand with the city leadership, including Phil Roggio, director of development and housing, design and construction.

The revitalization and redevelopment of the Riverfront and Marina District has enabled Alton to return to its historic, 19th century river town heritage and provide significant boosts in economic development and tourism for the 21st century. These efforts focused on the planning and design of a master plan, as well as the design of multiple facilities, including a 300-slip marina, an excursion boat mooring, a river-walk promenade, the Amphitheater, a public fountain plaza, pavilions, parks, pedestrian walkways and a pedestrian bridge connection to the historic downtown area.

The overall planning and design of the district, plus the eventual implementation and construction, has resulted in more than $30 million in public and private redevelopment on the riverfront.

Retaining walls at the Alton Riverfront and Marina District.
Photo courtesy of Kirchner Block & Brick

The project design team and construction oversight was lead by Dan Bockert of Planning Design Studio, who is the company’s principal and also served as the project manager. The company was assisted by EWR Associates, architects; Sheppard, Morgan and Schwaab, Inc., civil engineers; Horner & Shifrin, electrical engineers; Forsyth Engineering, structural engineers, and Hydro Dramatics, fountain design. The general contractor was RCS Construction, Incorporated. The Alton, Illinois City Parks department, headed by Executive Director Brad Cunningham and Assistant Executive Director Rhonda Lewis, is responsible for the Amphitheater operations.

Material choices make the difference

According to Planning Design Studio’s Bockert, Kirchner’s VERSA-LOK and Romanstone product lines made a major difference in the aesthetics of the overall project vision. “The range of material color and texture choices offered by Kirchner Block & Brick’s product lines helped us to coordinate finishes between colored concrete, precast material and poured in place concrete,” he said.

Kirchner Block & Brick – a division of Midwest Products Group – is a manufacturer and distributor of masonry and landscape/hardscape products, and the company sells these products throughout the Midwest via independent dealer/distributors. In addition to the VERSA-LOK Retaining Wall Systems and the Romanstone Interlocking Paving Stone products used in the Alton Riverfront Amphitheater project, the company’s other key product lines include Keystone® Retaining Wall Systems, Cultured Stone®, Trenwythe and Boral® Brick.

The cost of the total riverfront renovation project was approximately $4.4 million. Bockert credits Kirchner with keeping the material costs low while providing a beautiful finished product. “Kirchner Block & Brick helped the design team develop cost alternatives for plaza paving that ultimately brought the project in at budget.”

Roggio added: “The City of Alton is extremely pleased with the products provided by Kirchner. The retaining walls and pavers utilized at the amphitheater lend themselves to the superior aesthetic design we sought for this project.”

Plaza in front of the Amphitheater at the Alton Riverfront and Marina District project
Photo courtesy of Kirchner Block & Brick

“The Alton Riverfront Amphitheater project is proof positive that all entities involved in large public and private construction and renovation projects – including planners, municipalities, owners as well as designers – can find ways to create beautiful, enduring, cost-effective hardscape projects without sacrificing quality or compromising design,” said Mark Wilhelms, CSI/CDT and Kirchner Block & Brick’s sales manager.

Alton Riverfront and Marina District

The Alton Riverfront and Marina District Master Plan designated the central portion of the site for an open space, multi-use public park and common area, including an outdoor amphitheater. This property is part of the City of Alton, Easton Commons.

Design for the plaza and fountain at the Alton Riverfront and Marina District.
Image courtesy of Planning Design Studio

The finished Amphitheater is located in the central portion of Easton Commons. It was designed by Planning Design Studio to be seen as part of the overall open space concept, and centers on a circular fountain geyser and a concentric circle of pedestrian-friendly, smaller vertical fountains. This central fountain area consists of a series of decorative paved areas and grassy open space. The paving was created in contrasting color and texture to depict the theme of “the meeting of the great rivers,” graphically illustrating the plan view of the Mississippi River from the confluence with the Illinois River through the Missouri River Confluence to the St. Louis Riverfront.

It’s all in the Amphitheater

The Amphitheater, with a total seating capacity of 4,000 for organized events, includes 600 wall bench-type seats. A six-foot section of turf is between each row. There is an additional acre of sloped grassy area behind the fixed seating area. The grassy portion of the amphitheater is intended for blanket-type seating. Moreover, for certain events, the overall design allows for additional grassy seating behind the stage and around the fountain for a theater-in-the round effect. For informal or seating in the round, seating capacity can be doubled.

Kirchner supplied its VERSA-LOK weathered retaining wall units for the amphitheater seating and the handicap-accessible ramps. Planning Design Studio’s Bockert noted, “The seating walls and precast coping blends the line and shape of the amphitheater’s formal geometry to the natural open space of the surrounding riverfront landscape.”

Aerial view design of the Alton Riverfront Amphitheater Project
Image courtesy of Planning Design Studio

According to Sheppard, Morgan & Schwaab, Inc. Principal Charles Sheppard, P.E., “The VERSA-LOK weathered mosaic retaining wall units were selected for the low seating walls and handicap ramp walls because of their natural look, versatility, and ease of construction considering the varying elevations of the amphitheater bowl.”

Plaza Ponderings

The plaza area pavement was constructed using Romanstone Olympia concrete pavers. The plaza paving is used symbolically to represent the Alton street grid in the area around the fountain, and the fountain represents the geographic location of Alton along the Mississippi River when viewed from above the plaza. The varied modular paver units radiate from the “center” fountain, which represents the city, with the rest of the plaza paving symbolizing the region.

For more information regarding the Alton Riverfront and Marina District Master Plan, and the new Riverfront Amphitheater, contact Mark Wilhelms of Kirchner Block & Brick at (314) 291-3200 or visit the company’s website at; or contact Dan Bockert with Planning Design Studio at (314) 241-3600 or

Mary Hediger is an award-winning communications specialist and Principal of Big Bang Marketing Consultants, LLC.

VISION 2020: Building a Solid Future Together

One of the long-term goals of the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) and its members has been to establish marketing initiatives to reclaim and expand the use of concrete masonry and related building materials. Many programs have been considered throughout the years and NCMA leadership recently asked itself “What’s the most proactive, productive, positive thing we can do?”

They started by studying similar successful programs in the industry, then reached out to the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and other organizations, and together developed an exciting program called Vision 2020. The program is designed to maximize the available resources and workforce existing within national associations, regional associations, and individual companies within the concrete masonry and hardscape industries. The program strives to redefine the manner in which the collective industry approaches marketing to achieve both short-term and long-term objectives. The main focus of the program is to facilitate the adoption of community building ordinances or design guidelines that favor masonry.

The program concept originated as a result of strategic discussions between the leadership of both the NCMA and the MCAA on how suppliers and contractors in the masonry industry could work together more effectively to address a common goal: increased market penetration. The leadership of the two organizations introduced this program concept to representatives of regional associations throughout the U.S. and Canada at an executives summit in January 2009.

A grass roots marketing program to increase the use of masonry
Vision 2020 is based on a coordinated program of tiered support and implementation. The national associations will perform the role of national coordination and reporting of the work performed through local implementation. Consistent marketing messages will be developed by the national associations and disseminated. Masonry and hardscape promotion tool kits will be compiled and made available to local promotion teams. Additional promotion resources and training programs will be identified and developed to supply local promotion teams with everything they need to be effective. Accomplishments of promotion teams and impacts on markets will be documented and reported at the national level.

At the regional or local level, market opportunities will be identified and documented. Marketing messages will be adapted as needed to address unique regional construction needs and regional promotion resources will be developed as needed. Promotion teams will be formed with a combination of mason contractors, concrete masonry and hardscape suppliers, cement suppliers, and others. These teams will develop relationships and call on decision makers such as leaders of municipalities, school board officials, state and federal government agencies, architects and engineers, and business owners in order to promote the benefits of the masonry and hardscape systems.

NCMA and MCAA presented the concept to their memberships at their respective annual conventions in February 2009. The Interlocking Pavement Institute will be asked to assist with supporting hardscape promotion. The Portland Cement Association will be asked to support the grass roots marketing through their regional promotion groups. Regional associations will be asked to present the concept to their memberships and to determine their role and commitment to this program. Response has been favorable and more detailed outlines will be developed for implementation schedules.

Reprinted from the March 2009 edition of the CM News. Additional information regarding the Vision 2020 program is available through the National Concrete Masonry Association ( ) and Mason Contractors Association of America (